What our kids could’ve taught the media industry

Correction: What our kids could’ve taught the media industry if it had been listening rather than suing them, that is. In his keynote at the Edinburgh International Television Festival (edited video from The Telegraph), Kevin Spacey – star of House of Cards, the first digitally distributed drama series to earn a major Emmy nomination (it got nine nominations, Variety reported) – referred to entertainment consumers in general, but it was our children who established the media-using and -sharing patterns over the past decade (the RIAA finally stopped suing file-sharers in 2008, after having sued some 35,000 people since 2003, many of them young people). And it’s really mostly their media use patterns that he called on his industry to learn from. [His production house, Trigger Street Productions, went to all the networks pitching the House of Cards concept, he said, but only Netflix would agree to distribute it (digitally, of course) without a pilot. And Netflix released the entire season of House of Cards all at once so viewers could slice and dice and watch the 13-episode series any way they wanted.]

Spacey talked about what the music industry didn’t learn but what broadcast just might be getting: “Give people what they want, when they want it, in the form they want it in, at a reasonable price, and they’ll more likely pay for it rather than steal it. Well, some will still steal it, but I think we can take a bite out of piracy.”

So here’s what parents have been seeing for years: Story is as important as ever; what’s shifting is control, from provider to consumer. Choice of delivery medium, device, and location depends on the user, not the distributor. And that choice is never once-and-for-all for the user. It’s as situational (timing-related) and contextual (place and people-related) as it is individual. Who knows better than a parent that the device or platform really doesn’t matter much – or at least how fluidly they’re employed by young media users?

“In the next decade or two, any differentiation between these platforms will fall away,” Spacey said. “Do we define film as something two hours or less?” It almost sounds absurd now, doesn’t it? “If you’re watching a film on a television,” he continued, “is it no longer a film because you’re not watching it in a theater? If you’re watching a TV show on your iPad is it no longer a TV show?” To Spacey’s credit, a kid could be asking the same thing. “The device and the length are irrelevant. The labels are useless [except to agents, managers and lawyers doing business deals, he acknowledged].

“For kids growing up now, there’s no difference,” Spacey continued. “Watching Avatar on an iPad or YouTube on a TV or Game of Thrones on a computer – it’s all content,” he continued. “It’s just story. The audience has spoken. They want stories…. They’ll talk about it, binge on it [here's where parenting comes in, right?], carry it with them on the bus… force it on their friends, tweet, blog, Facebook, make fan pages, silly gifs and God knows what else about it. Engage with it with a passion and an intimacy that a blockbuster movie could only dream of. And all we have to do is give it to them.”

There are messages, here, for schools and educators too, right? In the comments below, I’d love to have you tell me what they are. Spacey also raises a question for all of us, I think, harking back to Harvard University law professor Lawrence Lessig’s point about criminalizing a generation (see this in 2008): Wasn’t piracy at least as much the creation of a media industry and a society unwilling to change with the media and its consumers as it was that of the so-called pirates?

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